FDA proposes ban on menthol cigarettes, flavored cigars

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is proposing a ban on menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars, which are more frequently used by young people, in the hopes of preventing the next generation from smoking.

Prohibiting the sale of tobacco products that contain menthol would significantly reduce smoking-related disease and death, according to a press release issued April 28 from the FDA. Menthol offers a minty taste and a cooling effect that's less harsh on the throat, making these cigarettes easier to smoke and harder to quit.

"The authority to adopt tobacco product standards is one of the most powerful tools Congress gave the FDA and the actions we are proposing can help significantly reduce youth initiation and increase the chances that current smokers quit," FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf said in the release. "It is clear that these efforts will help save lives."

Tackling youth tobacco use

In 2019, more than 18.5 million people ages 12 and older in the U.S. were current menthol cigarette smokers. There are high rates of use among youth and young adults, African American, and other racial and ethnic groups.

Studies have estimated a 15% reduction in smoking within 40 years if menthol cigarettes were prohibited in the U.S. Also, these studies estimate that 324,000 to 654,000 smoking attributable deaths overall, as well as 92,000 to 238,000 among African Americans, would be avoided over 40 years, according to the FDA.

"The proposed rules would help prevent children from becoming the next generation of smokers and help adult smokers quit," Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in the FDA release. "Additionally, the proposed rules represent an important step to advance health equity by significantly reducing tobacco-related health disparities."

Furthermore, the agency hopes to ban flavored cigars, which also are known to appeal to younger individuals. Flavors such as strawberry, grape, and fruit punch make cigars easier to use, and in recent years, more young people have tried a cigar every day than cigarettes, the FDA said.

The flavored cigar ban would decrease the likelihood of experimentation with the products, the FDA said. The agency took a similar, albeit less stringent stance, against flavored e-cigarette products in 2018.

Next steps

If the proposed rules are finalized, it will reduce the appeal of cigarettes, particularly among youth and young adults, decreasing the likelihood that they would experiment with menthol cigarettes and progress to nonmenthol cigarettes, the FDA said.

Additionally, the ban would improve the health and reduce the mortality risk of current menthol cigarette smokers by decreasing cigarette consumption and increasing the likelihood of them quitting, according to the release.

The public can comment on the proposed rules through July, which the FDA will review before taking future action. The agency will also hold public listening sessions on June 13 and June 15, which allow individuals and organizations to share their thoughts.

If the products are banned, the FDA said it cannot and will not take action against individuals who use or possess menthol cigarettes or flavored cigars. However, the agency intends to address manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, importers, and retailers.

"Through the rulemaking process, there's an important opportunity for the public to make their voices heard and help shape the FDA's ongoing efforts to improve public health," said Califf.

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